Symantec Norton Ghost v14 Review

by Reads (17,522)
  • Pros

    • Mostly intuitive interface
    • Great partition-level backups
    • Recovery via CD functions
  • Cons

    • No real file-level restoration
    • No backup during CD recovery
    • Almost too many options

by Greg Ross

Norton Ghost v14 is Symantec’s latest edition of their stalwart backup and recovery software. Does the newest model live up to the name, or is Ghost v14 just a shadow of its previous incarnations? We scare up the truth in this review.

PRODUCT OVERVIEW

Norton Ghost v14 can (theoretically) copy entire drives, partitions, folders and/or files to separate locations — on the same machine, the same network, or even FTP backup offsite — at scheduled intervals or based on event-driven prompts. It’s the next best thing to full RAID capability. Virtually every possible configuration option is buried in Norton Ghost v14 somewhere, but not all of these impressive features are fully baked.

INSTALLATION

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 setup screen

After inserting the Norton Ghost v14 CD into the computer, AutoRun immediately kicked in and the above screen popped up. By selecting to install the product, a standard installer program was called to setup and configure the program. It immediately asked us to accept the EULA, and then proceeded to ask us about our choice of installation to run. For this review, we chose to run a ‘Custom’ installation of Norton Ghost v14.

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 custom install

As shown, the custom installation revealed that very few components need to be installed for Norton Ghost v14. LiveUpdate is probably the only component not really needed for Ghost to function properly, but we chose to install all the components of the program for the purposes of this review.

The installation wizard didn’t even ask us to confirm/change any of the settings chosen, it just proceeded to do its job as instructed. After the installation was complete, the computer needed to reboot for Norton Ghost v14 to be fully functional. Aside from the reboot, installation of Norton Ghost v14 took less than three minutes.

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 install launch

As soon as the computer finished rebooting, Norton Ghost v14 went right to business. It asked us for the installation key (why did it not ask for that during the installation?) and asked us to run LiveUpdate. Since the computer must reboot again once the update is complete, it seemed kind of absurd to prompt the user to run “Easy Setup” as soon as the update was done.

LiveUpdate immediately went about its business, which seemed to take a bit longer than needed. After about seven or eight minutes, the update finally finished and the computer had to reboot again. The initial reboot really should be done during the installation as this was getting a little annoying.

PROGRAM INTERFACE

The first time the computer rebooted (without the need for further updates or reboots) the “Easy Setup” wizard popped up and asked us to configure system backups.

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 easy setup screen

The default backup “strategy” that Norton recommends covered the average user’s needs. One job performed backups to the system partition twice per week, and another job covered all the mainstream user files (the document, desktop, music, pictures, and video folders — very similar to the category backups found in Norton Online Backup). While thoughtful, Norton Ghost v14 did not immediately tell us if the backup jobs were incremental, differential, or otherwise. That said, this auto-configuration is great for users who are afraid to fiddle around with more advanced settings.

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 backup status screen

The home page for Norton Ghost v14 presented the user with basic status information and access to the most frequently used features of the program.

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 backup scheduler

There was also a nice, compact status window that features information about all the backup jobs that have been created or run on the computer. While not as nice as some competitor’s calendars, it certainly works.

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 tasks screen

The Tasks window offers easy access to all the core features of the program. Backup wizards, restoration wizards, and other features were all accessible from here.

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 tools screen

The Tools window provided access to a few very crucial features any backup program needs. We could manage how much of a destination hard drive should be used by Norton, how many versions of backups should be stored, and even clone entire hard drives.

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 advanced screen

The Advanced window, shown above, presented more detailed information about the system, its backup jobs, and the tasks that can be run on the computer. We could quickly determine whether all the drives are being properly backed up.

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 backup jobs

We could also take a look at very detailed information about all the backup jobs running on the computer. Some details about backup jobs should be a little easier to find via other windows in the program, but this window provided an excellent summary of all the backup jobs and their critical details. A detailed history of backups was also available here. This information is not as useful to the average user though.

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 event log

The Event Log, shown above, is also available from the Advanced window, but it could be much more informative.

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 performance options

The only other portion of the GUI that really needs to be mentioned here is the Options window. From here a few preferences can be set and, most importantly, the user can control what portion of networking and processing resources are consumed by Norton Ghost v14 during backup jobs. Since Norton Ghost v14 also supports running parallel backups to other locations, options are also available for accessing other network drives or FTP locations.

BACKUPS

For the backup and restore tests, a basic Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit installation with Microsoft Office was installed. No other non-essential programs were installed or running during these tests.

Default options were chosen for all tests, unless mentioned otherwise. We began with a full disk backup, and we elected to define a new backup job.

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 define backup wizard

This presented us with a choice to backup only specific files/folders, or entire system drives/partitions. Theoretically, we could select which drive(s) or partition(s) to backup. Upon further investigation, it is clear that only partitions can be backed up. Drive-level backups (which may include multiple partitions) do not seem to be possible. Nonetheless, we selected the main drive for backup, and elected for incremental (rather than full) backups during each backup job.

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 define backup destination

When we chose destination options, Norton Ghost v14 made a point of mentioning that it can store identical backup files to another location, as shown above.

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 advanced options

A few other advanced options were available as well, the most important of which pertained to data security. Norton Ghost v14 supports encryption and password protection of the backup files. AES is a very powerful encryption routine, and Ghost supports the use of 128-, 192-, and 256- bit encryption algorithms.

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 command files screen

After all that, we thought we were done defining the backup, but Norton Ghost v14 asked us to make a few more choices, as shown above. If you have any custom scripts or handler applications for your backup files, now would be the time to let Norton know. If not, feel free to ignore this screen.

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 define backup time

Finally, we opted into scheduling routines for the backup job created. These jobs can run at specific times on specific days or the week, days of the month, quarterly, yearly, or at almost any custom interval.

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 event threshold

Backup jobs can also run upon certain event triggers, like when a new program is installed or a user logs into the computer. Norton Ghost v14 can also monitor the internet “threat level” (as defined by Norton alone, likely in conjunction with its Norton Antivirus and/or Norton 360 products), and backup your system during periods where system attacks are more likely.

Our installation required Ghost to backup about 28GB of useful data (40GB minus a 12GB swap file), and the backup itself only took about 5 minutes. With only the standard options selected, Ghost created a final 16.9GB archive. There must be some fairly strong compression routines utilized here.

LIGHSTOUT RESTORE AND CD RECOVERY

Norton Ghost v14 can perform system-level backups from within Windows, but if the user wants to restore any system-level files or partitions, the Ghost CD or a LightsOut restore CD is needed.

These CDs are essentially Windows Vista preinstalled environments that can only run Norton Ghost. The included Norton Ghost v14 CD includes many of the most recent drivers necessary for the program to use the latest SATA controllers and chipsets, and it had no problem recognizing our drives on our Core i7 ICH10R testbed system. If your system uses drivers not included on the Ghost CD, the LightsOut Restore Wizard allows you to create a new Ghost CD with the needed drivers added.

However, even if you create a custom recovery disk, the original Norton Ghost v14 CD is still needed — you must use the two disks in tandem. We’re not sure what the options are should your Norton Ghost CD ever be lost.

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 64-bit error

As you can see above, 64-bit installations of Vista continue to haunt us. The Ghost LightsOut restore CD contains a preinstalled 32bit Vista environment. Users will need to download drivers separately for this wizard. Fortunately, Ghost v14 is pretty much up to date and users should not need to perform these advanced steps anytime soon. However, if a user does need to include customized drivers for either storage or network controllers, the wizard does give you the opportunity.

After clicking through a few other advanced options, finally, a CD image was created, which we burned onto a rewritable disk. Once the bootable disk was created, the computer could enter the Ghost recovery environment.

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 recovery disk screen

LightsOut Restore CD offered a handful of utilities.

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 CD recovery menu

Recovery operations can be done from within the CD environment, but notice that backups are not possible. Norton removed this functionality from their consumer programs a few years ago. In all reality this is the only serious beef we have with this program; there is no way for users to backup data during the restore process. The ability, while not used often, might prove to be a lifesaver for some users during migration operations or imaging operations gone wrong, especially if you don’t want a restore image to overwrite some previously unsaved data. Drive and system cloning is not available during recovery either, which is a disappointment to say the least.

A few other basic tools, including a virus scan and Norton’s version of CHKDSK were available during recovery as well, which may help a user recover their operating systems. A series of networking utilities were also available. It should be noted that the utilities menu featured programs that can both help or harm your computer. Users need to read the manual and really understand what they are doing before using these tools.

From within the recovery CD we opted to re-image the drive using the test backup made earlier.

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 recovery point selection

The program was slightly confused for a moment when it could not automatically find any backup images, but we were able to pinpoint the location of the backup file for the wizard.

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 target drive selection

We then chose a destination and were greeted with yet more advanced options, all of which the user should really understand before tweaking. A brief summary of the restore task was then shown, and the restoration started.

All in all, the backup operation tooks about 5 minutes to complete, which is in line with the amount of time it took to make the backup in the first place. Once the computer rebooted, Vista fired right up without any fuss or trouble.

FILE/FOLDER BACKUPS

Norton Ghost v14 is also capable of making folder and file backups. Using the backup configuration procedure detailed in earlier sections, we created a backup job that preserved all of the files in a few select user directories.

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 file-level backupSymantec Norton Ghost v14 file-level backup

It was easy enough to tell Ghost to restore files from partition-level backups, but sometimes locating said files was a bit troublesome, even using the “Recover My Files” wizard accessible from the main window.

We had to hunt down our recovery files, but choosing which files and folders to restore was a straightforward process. After right-clicking the desired entry and selecting to restore it, destination options were presented and the recovery started.

Restoring files and folders from non-partition backups was about as easy (or difficult) as restoring files and folders from partitions and backups. The wizard operated identically, though choosing what version of a file to restore was an option that was not easy to find.

ARCHIVE BROWSING

Symantec Norton Ghost v14 backup browser

Norton Ghost v14 also included a backup browser that allowed us to easily verify the contents of a partition backup archive. After opening up the v2i file that was created during our partition backup operation, a fairly simple window popped up that let us select specific backups in the series and browse through them. However, non-partition backups couldn’t be explored via this tool.

We were excited to learn that individual files and folders can be selected and restored from the archive browser. This is the type of wizard that Norton Ghost v14 needs to present to the user in the main window during restoration operations; it would make a lot more sense to the end-user.

Any partition-level archive can also be mounted as a read-only partition in the OS. Files and folders could then be browsed and opened just like on any other traditional hard drive.

CONCLUSION

Norton Ghost v14 offers the end-user all the tools needed to protect their data and system. Backup and restoration operations are impressively fast, and monitoring the status of backup jobs seems easy enough. The program also supports storing backup archives to offsite locations via FTP or networked drives, and all the needed security options are there to ensure the integrity of the data being preserved. Norton Ghost v14 also includes a very handy restoration CD that allows the user to restore data from outside of the OS, and there are options for updating that CD as time progresses and newer technology becomes standard.

However, there are a few quirks in the system. The biggest problem we have with the program is that backups cannot be done from within that restoration CD. The feature was inexplicably removed a few years ago. The file/folder restoration wizards were clunky at best, but fortunately the archive browsing tool was a lifesaver there — provided your data was backed up at the partition level. Users wanting to do file/folder-level backups will want to instead try to live with partition-level backups. Backing up during the recovery process is impossible so please keep that in mind.

Ultimately, Symantec continues to provide a rock-solid partition-level backup/restoration tool with Norton Ghost v14. If you are content to backup whole drives or partitions rather than files or folders, Norton Ghost v14 gets our full-throated endorsement. If you need file-specific recovery functionality, look elsewhere.

PROS

  • Mostly intuitive interface
  • Great partition-level backups
  • Recovery via CD functions

CONS

  • No real file-level restoration
  • No backup during CD recovery
  • Almost too many options


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